Designer, why designer? Part 2 – Bobby

‘Designer’ why designer? a story with lots of twists and turns, with some what might seem completely random career choices. But no I had a plan, and it’s just coming together!

If Mr Forey the technical drawing teacher with a military orderly obsession was responsible for my perfectly regimented 2H straight line architectural drawings then thank god for Bobby! Bobby saved me from the dark side of rulers, protractors and adjustable set squares. She showed me a world of creative freedom where using a 4B pencil and smudging weren’t shootable offences and that at the end of the day you could just down tools and not have to tidy up in fear of thumb screws or water torture. If one person has influenced me the most in terms of the art world it’s her, hands down.

So who was this crazy revolutionist who would have sent Mr Forey nervously twitching all the way to the funny farm? She was my grandmother, but never once in our 32 year relationship did I call her by any other name than Bobby. To this day I still don’t know why we called her that, her real name was Cynthia but Bobby suited a lot better.

Bobby was a combination of Mary Poppins, the Queen of England and Wonder Woman who lived in a magical place where dreams came true and early Sherries were permitted. To say that she was a talented artist would be a massive understatement. She had a style so free and full of hope that just by looking at her work you felt better, you felt safe, transported to a place where the sun always shone. And just when you thought she had done her best work she was able to change tack completely and discover a new artistic universe. From screen printing to watercolour, tapestry and ink she did it all.

From a very young age, I can remember spending the school holidays at her 3 story, little town house in Topsham town centre, just a few steps from the River Exe. Each floor was about 12 square metres but yet she seemed to manage to cram some so much stuff in, it was a true Aladdin’s cave. The top floor which had beautiful views of the River Exe was her workshop, oh it also served as her bedroom although I’ll never understand how she managed to sleep in there with drying prints pegged up on washing lines and countless art supplies stacked all around. Incredibly enough she even converted her ground floor (kitchen) and first floor (lounge) into an exhibition space several times a year. The general public could visit her house and marvel over her paintings in-between the teapots  and family photos.

We spent long summer days making hand puppets, papier-mâché, models and painting and sketching. Only stopping  for the delights of iced buns, trifle, party cakes, sticky toffee pudding, chocolate biscuits or even better to go the local sweet shop ‘Bonbons’ on a 20 pence spending spree. She took us to the local art centre to make kites, let us have fancy dress competitions, even took us on a graffiti course. We never had a bad day. Bathing in all this it was impossible not to be touched or inspired by art and crafts. And it was progressive, as we or I (my sister started opting out after a certain age when boys and discos became more enticing) grew older the subject matter evolved too.

Bobby helped me put together my portfolio to pass the entrance interview to study architecture at Bath University, an interview which I sailed through once I showed the course director my watercolours and free hand sketches. A few modifications and I also blitzed the interview for the furniture design course at Bucks Uni. Her talents didn’t just stop at painting and drawing, she also guided me on my end of year dissertation ‘Back from the Future – design developments in the cycle industry in the past 15 years’, yeah I know it sounds a bit dull, but it did the business. I was never afraid to show her my work as I knew she would never shoot it down or not understand it – at least she did a great job of hiding it if she didn’t! I only regret that she can’t see how far I have come, success should only ever be what you want it to be and knowing that she would have enjoyed my latest creations is success enough for me.

Great side story, during my phase of making wooden models at the age of about 10, me and my dad came up against a major construction dilemma. As my dad lived just across the street from Bobby’s we would often just pop over for tea and cakes. And it was during one such visit that whilst working on a wooden battleship we came across a solution to our gun turret deficit. We had spent hours looking for a suitable round wooden section of about 80 mm in diameter to complete the vessel. The double take look on mine and dad’s face when we saw Bobby’s kitchen table legs is unforgettable. We sent Bobby on a false cake shopping mission and in her absence set about cutting 20 mm off each leg. We were so proud of ourselves; it was the perfect crime, not even a speck of sawdust left as proof. It’s fair to say that we didn’t feel quite so clever when sometime later in the day we got a phone call from Bobby asking why she couldn’t get her ‘under the table’ fridge door open.

For more informations on her work (such as the painting in this post) visit

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